Stoking the frustrations of battling the wealthy-corrupt, after a collaborator is seriously injured a renegade detective takes on an arrogant young business heir
“This country treats businessmen like criminals. Isn’t the country run by our taxes?” protests egotistical millionaire Jo Tae-oh, a man brimming with violence and criminal intent at almost every turn.
The power of the wealthy to tread a different line to the Orwellian masses is a tale as old as currency, but in the ‘money talks’ modern era we see how workers’ pitted against corporate millionaires are ill-matched.
However, the potential saviours in Crying Fist and The Unjust director’s latest outing is a slice of Korean society often portrayed in films as being equally corrupt and power-drunk – the police force.
Indeed, the film’s title detective Seo Do-cheol, played by the always enigmatic Hwang Jung-min (New World, Ode to My Father), is himself violent, merciless and freely flaunts the procedure book. He meets Jo Tae-oh, pitched perfectly by Yoo Ah-in (Punch, Secret Affair), the heir to the powerful conglomerate Sin Jin Group, and a violent, entitled loose cannon.
When one of Do-cheol’s collaborators gets seriously injured, a truck driver called Bae (Jung Woong-in), he suspects Tae-oh and his corporation might know more than they are letting on.
While Do-cheol wants to pursue the suspicious businessman, money and connections prove too powerful and Do-cheol is told to stay away, leaving driver Bae’s life in the balance and the circumstances of his injuries unanswered.
“You know how it works. Rank is king.” We are told as our own frustrations match those of Do-cheol. Nothing like cinematic injustice to get us all riled up.
A burgeoning global issue in workers’ right is corporations navigating past various regulations by making employees contractors instead of fully fledged employees with enshrined protections. It is this pressure point that sparks the conflict in Veteran, alongside other legal blind spots such as private organisations not being required to install CCTV in areas that otherwise need it.
Veteran is a genuinely funny outing, though these elements are secondary compared to the action and police procedure aspects. Almost Memories of Murder-like in this sense, though occasionally going beyond that, including in an arrest scene where detective Seo dances around before getting stuck between two shipping containers.
It is the screen presences of Hwang Jung-min and Yoo Ah-in which really fizzle. Hwang possesses this manic, kinetic energy, whether as ruthless gangster as in New World or a reckless detective here. As for Yoo, the smart suits and cherub face are secondary to a truly sinister presence he produces in every scene.
A fun take on the class-struggle issue – if those opposing notions seem possible together – Veteran has the confidence to pull off its tonal shifts which range from pure slapstick through to graphic violence. It achieves all this through its blistering lead performances, elaborate action set-pieces and messaging over the true powerbrokers in the society we have built.